DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS (2022) – Underwhelming Doctor Strange Sequel Keeps Marvel Slumping

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The title says it all.

Multiverse of madness, indeed. That’s how I felt watching this one. As if I were stuck in a multiverse of bad Marvel adventures which after two hours eventually led me to madness.

I don’t know. Maybe, like a lot of you, I’m finally growing tired of the Marvel formula. Or maybe DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS (2022) just isn’t that great a movie.

Anyway, I finally sat down to watch the second DOCTOR STRANGE movie, which premiered in theaters in May and is now streaming on Disney Plus.

The movie opens with a long and not terribly exciting battle sequence with Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and a teenage girl (Xochitl Gomez) fighting a giant monster which ends with Strange waking up— ah, it was just a dream! Actually, it wasn’t. Because later, the girl, whose name is America Chavez, shows up in real life and tells Strange that it wasn’t a dream– that it was real but in a different universe. See, America possesses the ability to travel through the various multiverses, but the trouble is she doesn’t know how she does it. It only happens when she’s scared, which is a lot, since she is being chased by some unknown villain who wants her powers. She also tells Strange that dreams are real. They are just things that are happening in other universes.

Wait, what? Stop. Stop right there. Dreams… are real? Dreams… are events from other universes? Hmm. There are some pretty weird universes out there, that’s all I can say.

Anyway, back to our movie. Doctor Strange and his buddy Wong (Benedict Wong) decide they have to protect America— that’s the character, not the country— from this unknown villain, but since doing so involves witchcraft and evil spells, Strange decides he needs the help of an old friend, and so he seeks out Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) aka The Scarlett Witch. But it turns out good friend Wanda isn’t over her “WandaVision” trauma, and much to Strange’s horror, he discovers that she’s the villain who is after America’s power, which she wants in order to travel to other universes to find her sons who do not exist in this universe.

The battle lines are drawn, and the battles takes our heroes and villains through all sorts of multiverses and multiple versions of characters, which sounds like much more fun than it actually is in the movie.

Yeah, at the end of the day, I just wasn’t all that impressed with DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS. I had much more fun with the most recent SPIDER-MAN move, SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME (2021). That film also involved the multiverse, but it had a much more playful attitude, and what it did with the various universes in that movie, like bringing back previous versions of Spider-Man and previous villains, was much more fun than what happens here in this second DOCTOR STRANGE movie.

Speaking of previous Spider-Man movies, DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS was directed by Sam Raimi, who directed the three Tobey Maguire SPIDER-MAN movies. Of course, Raimi is mostly known for helming the EVIL DEAD horror movie trilogy. There are some neat Raimi touches here, like Doctor Strange having to resurrect himself as a corpse, which later has a key scene in the movie. And with evil spells and some violent ends to some of the heroes, along with some well-timed humor, there were plenty of moments that had me thinking more of the EVIL DEAD movies than a Marvel film.

But it wasn’t enough for me, largely because the screenplay by Michael Waldron I found to be a snooze. Granted, I’m a bit biased, because I’m just not a fan of magic, fantasy, or supernatural when it shows up as the main plot point in a superhero movie. These stories ultimately don’t work for me. So, there’s that. But I also didn’t find the dialogue very effective, and it certainly wasn’t the snappy kind of dialogue one has become accustomed to in a Marvel movie.

Yes, I appreciated the story arc of Doctor Strange having to learn how not to do everything himself and at the end defer to America, but at the end of the day it wasn’t terribly exciting. I actually preferred Wanda’s story arc, where she is driven to find her children, who in reality don’t exist because she invented them in a fantasy, but as she tells Strange, they do exist, in other universes, and she knows this to be true because she’s dreamt about them.

On the other hand, none of the other characters, including teen America, did much for me. And the storyline following Strange’s failed relationship with Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) was disappointing in that it didn’t really go anywhere.

You know things are bad when even Benedict Cumberbatch is boring. The guy is a tremendous actor, and I believe I have enjoyed every performance I’ve seen him play, but this time around as Doctor Strange he plays second fiddle to the special effects, which of course, are first-rate. But effects alone are not enough to carry a movie.

As I said, I enjoyed Wanda’s storyline more here than Doctor Strange’s, and as such I really enjoyed Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda/The Scarlet Witch. Not only was her story the most compelling in the movie, but she also makes for a heck of a villain! Part of her effectiveness is because she was an Avenger, after she wasn’t, and so there’s the whole back and forth element for the character, and we’ve seen her enough to understand that she wants to do well by others, but life keeps knocking her down and giving her sh*t, and finally she snaps and says she’s not taking it anymore. As I said, I really enjoyed Olsen here.

But the rest of the cast not so much.

Xochitl Gomez was fine as America, the teenage superhero, but the character was pretty boring. Benedict Wong adds nothing new to his Wong shtick, and Rachel McAdams, another terrific actor, is stuck in a bunch of redundant dull scenes as Strange’s former love interest Christine Palmer. Chiwetel Ejiofor reprises his role as Baron Mordo from the first DOCTOR STRANGE movie but does nothing terribly exciting here.

A bunch of other folks show up in bit scenes and cameos, to little avail, including Haley Atwell as Captain Carter, Lashana Lynch as Captain Marvel, John Krasinski as Reed Richards, Patrick Stewart as Professor Charles Xavier, Charlize Theron as Clea, and Bruce Campbell as Pizza Poppa, to name just a few. But none of these portrayals and reprisals do much for the movie.

The whole tone of the movie is underwhelming. The DC movie, THE SUICIDE SQUAD (2021) is a film that also featured a ton of superheroes and crazy shenanigans, but that film had a script that rocked, and the movie just took off. DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS just sort of runs in place as it jumps around from one multiverse to another, with nothing particularly memorable happening in any of them.

I remember liking the first DOCTOR STRANGE (2016) movie well enough, but I didn’t love it. Similarly, I liked DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERS OF MADNESS less, but I didn’t hate it.

And yes, I’m still a Marvel superhero movie fan, and I’m looking forward to the next release in two weeks, of THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER (2022), but there’s no denying that these folks have been in a slump lately. With the exception of SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME, they have really struggled to get the ball rolling after they wrapped up their initial story arc with AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019).

With DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS, that struggle continues.

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THE OLD GUARD (2020) – Charlize Theron Action Fantasy is Old Hat

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old guard

In THE OLD GUARD (2020), you have Charlize Theron playing the leader of a small band of immortal mercenaries who travel the world in search of missions to do good for humankind.

Sounds pretty cool, right?

I thought so. But sadly it sounds better than it actually is. Yes, even though THE OLD GUARD is getting positive word of mouth and decent critical reviews, I was a bit underwhelmed. Maybe my expectations were too high?

Nah!

Andy (Charlize Theron) has been fighting the good fight for centuries. Yup, she’s an immortal warrior who has been saving the day forever. Literally. Yet, she feels increasingly frustrated because in the here and now the world is worse than ever, and she feels that in spite of all her efforts through the years she has not made a difference.

Presently, she leads a small group of fellow immortals which include Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), Joe (Marwan Kenzari),  and Nicky (Luca Marinelli). When they are hired by an ex-CIA operative named Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) to rescue a group of abducted children in Sudan, they are ambushed, and they discover that Copley had set them up, as evidently he has another agenda, and it has to do with a villain named Merrick (Harry Melling) who is very much interested in learning the secret of this group of heroes’ immortality.

Around the same time, a young U.S. soldier in Afghanistan, Nile (Kiki Layne) is killed, only to come back to life, and the group realizes a new member has emerged, so in addition to fighting Copley and Merrick, they have to find and recruit young Nile, who is not in the least interested in joining this group of heroes.

Oh, and by the way, we also learn that these heroes aren’t really immortal. Come again? See, they just have very long life spans. They can still die. Eventually. They just never know when.

How terribly— inconvenient.

I was excited to watch THE OLD GUARD, mostly because of the presence of Charlize Theron, whose work I enjoy a lot, and also because I thought the film had a very cool premise.

Now, Theron is as good as expected. She’s excellent as Andy, although I didn’t find the role all that interesting. For example, early on she laments that she simply hasn’t made a difference, that the world is worse than ever, yet this angst never becomes a driving force in her personality. And while her choreographed fight scenes are very good, they’re not great. Her action scenes in ATOMIC BLONDE (2017) were superior.

But the film’s premise I thought was lacking, and it wasn’t as innovative and exciting as I expected it would be. It’s a rather blah screenplay by Greg Rucka, who also wrote the graphic novel series on which this movie is based. The dialogue is pretty standard and doesn’t rise to the level of an electrifying superhero movie.

The plot also has issues. Their mission isn’t terribly exciting, mostly because it’s not really a mission! When the film opens, and they are sent to rescue abducted children, that mission had promise, but it turns out that was only a set-up. For the rest of the movie, they are only doing two things. One, seeking out Copley and Merrick, and this is only for their own self-preservation, and two, recruiting and training Nile.

Yawn.

It’s a classic example of a film that was made to spawn a series, with the set up for the next film being  now that we’ve assembled this group of heroes let’s send them on an exciting adventure in the next movie! Why not just do that in this movie??? What a terrible waste of time. This happens a lot in these types of movies. SUICIDE SQUAD (2016) was another example.

Merrick is also a pretty ineffective villain. He doesn’t have much of an agenda, and he has zero screen presence.

Actually, none of the characters in this one are all that interesting. It’s a rather dull band of immortal heroes.

Director Gina Prince-Bythewood does an okay job. The action sequences are decent but not outstanding. The pacing of the film is also rather slow. The film runs just over two hours and it felt like it.

THE OLD GUARD is a Netflix original, but it is nowhere near as good as a previous Netflix original action movie, EXTRACTION (2020), which had some of the best and most intense action sequences in any movie I’ve seen this year.

The cast didn’t really wow me. Chiwetel Ejiofor, however, does add fine support as Copley, and the character undergoes a transformation in the film which sets him up as a key player in the sequels, and I do believe Netflix is planning to make more of these movies.

And while there are some decent scenes in this one— a sequence on a plane is one of the better ones in the movie, for example— there’s simply not enough of them to lift this flick to the upper echelon of superhero action movies.

It’s also rated R, yet I hardly noticed. I don’t think it earned its rating all that well.

THE OLD GUARD is a film filled with promise. With Charlize Theron leading the way, this group of heroes should be one worth watching and rooting for. Sadly, for most of this film, due largely to a standard and rather unimaginative screenplay, that’s not the case.

Since there is a second film in the works, it looks like we’ll just have to wait for the sequel.

And that’s because THE OLD GUARD is all rather old hat.

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